Before running for president, Donald Trump was what we might consider a mid-to-high-level grifter. Despite his bogus claims about being the largest developer in New York, his media profile was much larger than his actual influence in the real estate world. As such, he was always looking for ways to scoop up extra cash and avoid liabilities in whatever quantities available — bilk struggling people out of $10,000 here and $20,000 there with phony real estate seminars, sell some steaks at Sharper Image, stiff the contractors who did work for him, get his "foundation" to pay off lawsuits against him, and so on. "My whole life I've been greedy, greedy, greedy," he said. "I've grabbed all the money I could get. I'm so greedy."
But now there's no longer any need for small-time cons. Trump is truly the boss, and just like it is with the mob, everybody has to pay the boss.
While he has said that on Dec. 15 he'll announce exactly how he's going to separate himself from his businesses, details are leaking out. "President-elect Donald J. Trump is considering formally turning over the operational responsibility for his real estate company to his two adult sons," The New York Times reports, "but he intends to keep a stake in the business and resist calls to divest, according to several people briefed on the discussions." One surprise is that Ivanka will be moving to D.C. to do something or other with the government, in ways that I'm sure will never, ever intersect with her family's business interests. But generally speaking, Trump will do exactly what most people assumed he would: Allow Donny Jr. and Eric to run the day-to-day stuff, while remaining the guy who cashes the checks.
And that's the most important fact to understand about why it's so meaningless that his kids will be running his business, and why his opportunities for enrichment will be so vast. Even if you believe him that he won't even talk about the Trump Organization with his kids (and I can't imagine anyone actually believes that), he'll still be the one making the money. When the kids go to a country overseas and arrange a deal to slap the Trump name on a hotel for millions of dollars in licensing fees, it's Donald Trump who'll be getting paid. Rest assured, foreign governments and businesses understand that very well.
The same may apply here at home as well. It's looking like conservatives in Washington will now be expected to hold all their major events at Trump's hotel; the Heritage Foundation held a donor event there last week, and the RNC will be holding its Christmas party there — the same hotel where foreign dignitaries will be expected to stay when they're in the American capital. "Isn't it rude to come to his city and say, 'I am staying at your competitor?'" one Asian diplomat told The Washington Post. You bet it is, and you bet he'll notice. Meanwhile, the Secret Service may be renting out space in Trump Tower in New York, for millions of dollars a year.
Of course, the details will be as opaque to the public as Trump can make them. That's why he was the first nominee in four decades not to release his tax returns, and why he won't ever release them. The financial disclosures he has no choice but to file offer some clues, but not nearly enough, particularly when Trump's holding are spread around multiple countries and clothed in a seemingly endless array of subsidiaries and LLCs. Here's the Wall Street Journal describing Trump's ownership of a single helicopter:
President-elect Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland.
To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99 percent of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99 percent of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red "TRUMP" on the side of its fuselage. [WSJ]
The purpose of all that pecuniary obfuscation may be just to evade taxes, but it also makes it almost impossible to know where his money is and who's giving him more of it. It means there are hundreds of entry points for cash to flow, and now that he's the most powerful person in the world, there will be no shortage of interests foreign and domestic looking to grease his palm.
And Trump needn't worry that Congress is going to be breathing down his neck. "This is not what I'm concerned about in Congress," said Speaker of the House and straight-arrow ethics advocate Paul Ryan when asked about Trump's conflicts of interest. "I have every bit of confidence he's going to get himself right with moving from being the business guy that he is to the president he's going to become." Other Republicans have a similar faith in Trump's unimpeachable probity. "The American people knowingly voted for a businessman whose name is inextricably tied to his fortune," said Newt Gingrich. "I'd say to the left wing, get over it."
So around the world, people and governments are getting the message: Paying off Trump isn't just possible, it's downright expected. There's no better way to win his attention or his good will then by sending some business his way. Whether you seek his favor or merely want to avoid his wrath, you'd better pay the boss.